Category Archives: Plants

Flowers and the Smell of Coal

Bloodroot open in full sun, 11 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bloodroot open in full sun, 11 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

A group of us went to Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County last Wednesday, April 11, to look for birds and blooms.  Our highlights were six Louisiana waterthrushes and the largest spread of snow trillium we'd ever seen.

The morning was cold and cloudy so the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was still closed when we arrived. By the time we left it was fully open (above).

Bloodroot in the chilly morning, 11 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bloodroot in the chilly morning, 11 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

We were surprised to find snow trillium (Trillium nivale) at its peak in mid April.  This flower usually blooms in February or March but cold weather must have held it back. So many blooms!

Snow trillium at its peak, 11 April 2018, Cedar Creek Park (photo by Kate St. John)
Snow trillium at its peak, 11 April 2018, Cedar Creek Park (photo by Kate St. John)

While we lingered near the snow trillium I noticed the smell of burning coal.  The site is far from any source so I wondered where the smell came from.

Later I learned that there are many abandoned coal mines in Rostraver Township and there's a history of abandoned mine and waste pile fires.

Did I smell an old mine fire still burning?  Has a new fire just begun?  Do any of you know the answer?

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Blooming News:  I visited Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve on Friday April 13 where I found the flowers far behind Core Arboretum and even behind Cedar Creek.  Yes, spring has been slow to come -- and it's trying to leave again.  This phenology map from NPN shows our delayed spring in blue.

First leaf Anomaly, 14 April 2018 from usanpn.org
First leaf Anomaly, 14 April 2018 from usanpn.org

 

Two Kinds of Spring Beauty

Carolina Spring Beauty, Core Arboretum, 8 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Carolina Spring Beauty, Core Arboretum, 8 April 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Last Sunday I saw Carolina spring beauties blooming at the Core Arboretum in Morgantown, West Virginia.  They reminded me of this 2011 article, Two Kinds of Spring Beauty, though I didn't see the second kind.  (Click the link to read about both flowers.)

Flowers bloom earlier in Morgantown because it's 60 miles south of us.  Spring moves north 13 miles a day so we should expect our spring beauties to bloom today or tomorrow. And they will because of our temporarily hot weather.

If you're near Morgantown, the Core Arboretum offers wildflower walks on three Sundays in April every year.  The first walk was last Sunday but you still have time to join naturalists from West Virginia University at 2pm on April 15 and April 22 to see what's blooming.  Click here for directions.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

How Early Is Spring This Year?

Snow this morning in Pittsburgh, 2 April 2018, 7:30am (photo by Kate St. John)
Snow this morning in Pittsburgh, 2 April 2018, 7:30am (photo by Kate St. John)

How early is Spring this year? That's a hard question to answer.

This morning we have snow again in Pittsburgh and heavy snow-cloud skies. Spring feels late and yet it was early at first.

The animated map below from the National Phenology Network (NPN) shows the emergence of leaves across the Lower 48 States. NPN uses honeysuckle leaves as their marker plant and so do I.  The blue color shows late emergence, red means early.  Our leaves were 20 days early in Pittsburgh.

USA National Phenology Network Spring Leaf Anomaly, 30 March 2018 (from usanpn.org)
USA National Phenology Network Spring Leaf Anomaly, 30 March 2018 (from usanpn.org)

Here's proof from February 20, 2018.

Honeysuckle leaves open in the heat, 20 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves open in the heat, 20 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Since then Nature did a 180-degree turn and handed us a series of cold snaps capped by snow.  Our wildflowers have not bloomed yet.  Last year they were two to three weeks early and had gone to seed by the end of March.

Fortunately NPN tracks first blooms as well, using lilacs as the marker plant.(*)  On the map below you can see the Southeast bloomed 20 days early.

USA NPN Spring Bloom Anomaly, March 30, 2018 (from usanpn.org)
USA NPN Spring Bloom Anomaly, March 30, 2018 (from usanpn.org)

But we aren't on the bloom map yet.

When will our wildflowers bloom?  We'll have to wait and see.

 

(photo by Kate St. John. Animated maps from usanpn.org)

* From the USA NPN website: These models were constructed using historical observations of the timing of first leaf and first bloom in a cloned lilac cultivar (Syringa x chinensis'Red Rothomagensis') and two cloned honeysuckle cultivars (Lonicera tatarica 'Arnold Red' and L. korolkowii 'Zabelii').

Yellow In Bloom

Cornelian cherry in Schenley Park, 26 March 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Cornelian cherry blooming in Schenley Park, 26 March 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some yellow flowers bloomed this week.

Above, Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) opened its buds in Schenley Park and other cultivated locations.  Introduced from southern Europe, this small tree is in the dogwood family.

Another Eurasian plant, coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), started blooming along roadsides in mid March but was suppressed by the 8-10 inches of snow on March 22.  It came back quickly last week.

Coltsfoot in bloom, 26 March 2018 (photo by Kate St.John)
Coltsfoot in bloom, 26 March 2018 (photo by Kate St.John)

Meanwhile, there's frost this morning in my backyard.  My daffodils are still waiting for better weather.

Daffodils in the bud. Frost on the leaves, 31 March 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Daffodils in the bud. Frost on the leaves, 31 March 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

p.s. The air smells bad today in Pittsburgh because industrial pollution is trapped by an inversion. (Rotten egg smell!)  Check the Smell Report for March 31 on the map here.

(photos by Kate St. John)

St. Patrick’s Plant Is Harder To Find

White clover leaf, Trifolium repens (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
White clover leaf, Trifolium repens (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On St. Patrick's Day:

Did you know the shamrock used to be easy find in suburbia, but now it's not?

The shamrock is one of two species:  lesser clover (Trifolium dubium) or white clover (Trifolium repens).  We don't have much lesser clover in the U.S. but we used to have lots of white clover.  You could find it in any lawn.

White clover in flower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
White clover in flower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Fifty years ago white clover was mixed into every bag of grass seed because it grows well in poor soil, is drought-tolerant, immune to diseases, unattractive to common turf insects, and it makes its own fertilizer.  Clover sets nitrogen in nodules on its roots, thus adding nitrogen to the soil.

White clover was so common that as a child I searched our lawn for lucky four leaf clovers and found them!

With all these advantages, what happened?

Broad-leaf weed killers came into use.  Intended to kill dandelions, English plantain, etc. these chemicals kill white clover, too.  Ever since the weed killers took over white clover hasn't been mixed with grass seed. Not for a very long time.

Good luck finding a four-leaf clover today.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

p.s. Info on clover's advantages is from: Grow a Patch of Clover to Rejuvenate Your Lawn.

Plants Are Making Progress

Honeysuckle leaves, 7 March 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves, 7 March 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite the cold weather, the plants are making progress toward spring.

The honeysuckle leaves above on March 7 are the same ones I photographed on February 20 below.

Honeysuckle leaves open in the heat, 20 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves open in the heat, 20 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

It's interesting to note that the first leaves that opened in February are still small, though mature.  Newer leaves are the normal size.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

The Crocus Report

Crocus blooming, Pittsburgh, PA 23 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Crocus blooming in Pittsburgh, PA, 23 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last Tuesday's summer weather made a difference to early rising bulbs.

I found crocuses blooming on Friday, snowdrops on Wednesday, and ...

Snowdrops blooming in Pittsburgh, 21 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Snowdrops blooming in Pittsburgh, 21 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

... daffodil leaves 3 to 4 inches tall.

Daffodils 3-4 inches tall, 21 Feb 2018, Pittsburgh, PA (photo by Kate St. John)
Daffodils 3-4 inches tall, 21 Feb 2018, Pittsburgh, PA (photo by Kate St. John)

Is this early for crocuses?  Indeed it is.

Thanks to my blog, I have a record of first blooming dates in Pittsburgh's East End going back to 2009 (except for 2016):

This year's crocuses are blooming even earlier than in the Hot year of 2012.

The plants know our climate is changing.

 

(photos by Kate St.John)

Happy Holly Days

Holly along the Turkey Hill Trail in Lancaster County, PA
Holly along the Turkey Hill Trail in Lancaster County, PA

American Holly (Ilex opaca) occurs naturally in the eastern U.S. from New Jersey to Florida to east Texas.

I always see it in southeastern Virginia but rarely find it in western Pennsylvania.

If it's present, you'll notice holly in winter because it's one of the few green plants in January.  Keep an eye out for it, even in Pennsylvania. This young plant was photographed in Lancaster County.

Happy holly days!

😉

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)